Can Dorna Make Up Its Mind?

Things are far from calm in the MotoGP paddock, and the latest tests at Sepang and Phillip Island only caused even more stir in relation with Dorna’s Open class regulations. Putting things in fewer words, Honda and seemingly, Yamaha, were not exactly happy with Ducati going Open and being able to benefit from the class’ regulations, at the expense of being allowed to write proprietary software for the ECUs. And to calm things a bit, Dorna came up with the idea of creating a new racing class, Factory 2.
Even more, the proposed rules for the Factory 2 class state that should a team, in this case Ducati, win a race, 2 second places or finish 3 times in the third position… a penalty applies. They don’t name it “penalty,” but reducing the fuel load-in from 24 liters to 22.5 and the engine allocation from 12 per season to 9 doesn’t sound like a prize to me.

Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta says that Ducati is fine with such a new class, and honestly, I would be fine, too, if I was Gigi Dall’Igna. That is, when Ducati made the very smart move to the Open class, everybody in the Borgo Panigale cart wagon knew there was absolutely nothing to lose. The future was all of a sudden brighter, with excellent chances to continue the development of a new Factory bike while not being the laughing stock of the field. And even more, with increased chances to get closer to the podium or even win races.

Some guys are very vocal on the wire, claiming that Ducati is cheating, but I really don’t see it this way. Ducati Gigi Dall’Igna was simply smart enough to play by the rules and use the loop holes in the increasingly lousy Dorna/FIM regulations to his advantage.

#1. The rules never said anything about the Open class being restricted to privateer teams. This meant that even Honda or Yamaha could have decided to drop their own software and join the Open grid. I can’t even imagine how cool such a move would have looked like. Screw the proprietary software, collaborate with the rest of the teams and help Marelli create a spec, but top-notch ECU software, then race the hell out of the bikes. See who’s better in these conditions.

#2. When Magneti Marelli asked factories to help putting up new software, it appears like Honda and Yamaha said “neah,” while Ducati went “yeah.” Despite the fact that Marelli’s software MUST be compliant with all the engines on the grid, HRC is now complaining that the new version is in fact a version derived from Ducati’s own factory software.

And honestly, it really looks like it is, indeed! What was HRC (or anyone else, for what’s worth) expecting, that Ducati worked on a completely new software? Dall’Igna is much smarter than this, and he most likely handed Marelli the framework of the Ducati code as the starting point for building a high-performance software. While everybody, including HRC expected that the new Marelli code was only a pile of dung… surprise! Things start to look professional and factory-esque.

Add in a bevy of engines, no engine freezing, more fuel and at least 18 occasions to pit the constantly developed bikes against the rivals: who could ever refuse such an offer, especially as Ducati is clearly aimed at becoming competitive and cost-efficient once more?

On the other hand, Honda and Yamaha have built their racing bikes with their own software, and are in complete control over their development. Part of the MotoGP experience goes into road bikes, and with a spec software, the chances to develop road-worthy technology are very slim. They just didn’t need a change.

3#. Dorna and the FIM never seemed to even care who gets involved in engineering the new Open class ECU software. It looked more like “things should work out in the end”-type of addressing the matter. Having one of the teams providing the key info and architecture for a bike software which was supposed to be loaded on the entire grid is simply reckless. And in case that team was a factory one was even more reckless. Let alone the fact that Ducati is now listed as Open, everything on that bike is Factory, whether openly admitted or not. And this brings me to…

#4. CRT and now, the Open class were advertised by Dorna as sure methods to boost competitiveness in the MotoGP field. That is, helping privateer teams build better bikes with lower costs, making the battle more interesting and even challenging the factory teams for a podium finish. With Ducati in the Open paddock, I really fail to see the cost caps Ezpeleta kept on speaking about.

#5. Lack of foresight from the game-makers prevented Dorna from anticipating how wickedly fast NGM Forward Yamaha bikes could be. Aleix Espargaro looks like he finally got the fast bike he was looking for. The reigning CRT champion proved that his Yamaha M1 leased engine worked very well with the Marelli spec software, got dangerously close to the factory bikes and smoked Honda’s production racer AND satellite machines.

Dorna could have easily figured out that when Ducati brings their factory machine on the track with 4 extra liters of fuel to spend, a non-frozen engine which can be developed through the entire season and 12 engines allowed per season, things were not going to be easy.

Now, if Dorna is all of a sudden preoccupied to detail out new classes, because they never expected their decisions to deliver such (rather easy to foresee) results, the grid looks more like a 5-class affair:
We have the full-fledged Factory, with HRC and Yamaha and their 2 riders each and the new Factory 2 class, with Ducati being the only maker in it. Then it’s the Factory Satellite class, with Tech3 for Yamaha and GO&FUN Gresini for Honda, the factory-backed Open teams fielding Honda’s RCV1000R production racer and the you-name-it-Open with factory leased Yamaha engines. And the remainder of the field is the Truly Open, such as Avintia, PBM and the rest.

Seriously, it looks like a mess, at least this year. Having Ezpeleta talking about rules to be changed in such a way on March 11, with the championship kick-off round less than a fortnight away from such disturbing modifications, is not exactly our idea of sporting. It sounds more like some corporate methods to somehow reduce the impact of insufficient anticipation… and keep the money flowing.
After talking to many guys, it looks like the simpler things are, the better the championship could be. Keep factory bikes in the Factory class and everything else in the Open class and have them do battle. It may get boring at the very top, but haven’t you all noticed that sometimes the battle for the 3-5 positions is much tensed and worth watching than the “lonely hare” in the front?

I still love the top riders, and appreciate their efforts and talent a lot, but it’s the bigwigs set on profit solely who are kind of ruining the beauty of the sport, and imposing weird rules with unpredictable consequences is not helping, really. The leveled-out series Dorna seem to be dreaming about is a tad utopic.

In the end, it looks like consensus is needed to enforce the new class, and this means Dorna, the FIM, IRTA, the MSMA must come to terms. In 4 days’ time, we’ll know how things are rolling this year, but Dorna would better straighten up their game for the coming seasons.
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